Question: What are your recommendations on fly fishing higher water levels?
Answer: Lead boots and an extremely long snorkel would be a help
High water on the White does make for some good fishing. The downside is it makes for tough wading, and water depth and speed change considerably. Each generator adds roughly a foot of water to the river.Up to 2 units there is still some decent spots to wade, if you are careful, but you are going to have to be particular about your technique. On higher flows there are some decent public access fishing, plus some good islands you can fish on foot, even if you aren’t actually standing in the water as fish move into the slower water to feed.
Of course often the best way to fish the big water is via a boat _ and often having someone to drive it. Dead drifting with a boat, like the jon boats river boats all our guides use, is an extremely efficient way to fish high water. Not that some of our guides like Marc, Chad and Steve and Ben, aren’t fans of or do trips with drift boats, but the motor-powered jon boats allow you to work the most productive water repeatedly.
Dead drifting nymphs, or using sinking lines and streamers both are productive. Dead drifting is often easier and way more common over a range of different water levels, so we will tackle it first.
The big issue is getting to the fish in their high water feeding lanes _ trout move according to the water flow to different places to fulfil their needs of shelter from the current but in close proximity to where food is concentrated. As a basic rule there is generally a strip of slow water along the banks, likely places for trout to hold, waiting to slip to the faster current to pick off food items.
Flooded islands, grass beds and gravel humps are also good places to target holding fish. Then its a matter of getting your fly down to the right depth and the right speed. Whether or not you have a guide, hire a boat yourself, or indeed whether you are in a drift boat or a river boat, the guy on the controls is the most important part of your fishing success. Matching the boat speed to speed of drift is critical to keeping your flies at depth and behaving in the right way.
Leader set up for high water is different too, at lower flows simple knotless leaders off the shelf in 3x, 4x or 5x work well. But when the water is big, over 12,000 cfs then often you will find our guides constructing their own leaders, with heavy butt sections, and either tapered leaders or straight through flouro carbon on say 3x to get a faster sink rate. Depending on the flies being fish 4x or 5x tippet is common outside shad kill periods.
Carry a variety of split shot from 6s to AAA and the appropriate sized indicators to balance the weight _ you want something that will suspend the flies and weight at the depth you want, without being so big that the fish can feel the resistance. At light flows Lightning Strike Stick-on Indicators are popular, and then the Thingamabobbers take over in various sizes. Old school crappie bobbers also have their place on the big water with many feeling they are easier to cast. During mid to late summer and even thru fall a terrestrial fly, a hopper or attractor pattern is a pretty good choice as an indicator.
On lower flows drifting the midge combinations like Wotton Super Midges, Whitetails, Ruby Midges and standard Zebra Midges, along with scuds and sowbugs can work extremely well. Often a larger heavier fly can be used in place of splitshot. As the water comes in heavier patterns are used, like Davy’s High Water Scuds , or split shot. And in very dirty water ggg patterns including the Cheeto and San Juan worms and local ties like Dynamite Worms and Prism Worms do very well.
With sinking lines and streamers its a question of matching the sink speed of your line and fly, intermediates for low water and perhaps up to 1 unit, moving to a type 2, type 4 and type 6 as the number of generators increases. We tend to use the modern ”shooting head” style sink tips like SA’s Streamer Express and Rio’s Outbound. Chec out out streamer article here